MLS Weekend Review
Patrick Mullins Stays Hot While Red Bulls Claim East
October 17, 2016
Mullins is the new Nagbe
In 2015, Portland Timbers head coach Caleb Porter moved Darlington Nagbe into a central midfield/box-to-box position and Nagbe’s game took flight. No player in MLS had more of an impact over the final two months and that carried over to the playoffs where Portland eventually hoisted MLS Cup.
This year, no player has had a bigger impact in the regular season’s final two months than D.C. United’s Patrick Mullins, who has been on fire. He was easily the league’s best player on Sunday, scoring a goal and adding an assist in a convincing 3-1 win over New York City FC.
Mullins, 24, now has eight goals this season and has seven goals in his last 10 games. But the former Maryland Terrapin and New Orleans native has also been dangerous even when he has not been scoring.
"I don't have to do a lot of coaching with Patrick," D.C. United head coach Ben Olsen said. "I think he is pretty motivated and he has the right chip on his shoulder. He's a competitor and he is going to do what he does. He is going to give you everything he has and hold up balls, and he has a nose for the goal."
MLS is all about momentum heading into the playoffs and it was not long ago that United seemed like it was either going to miss out on the postseason or be an easy out. Now it has won four straight and is a team no one wants to face. Mullins is a huge reason for that.
A Huge day for the Red Bulls
Sunday was a huge day for the New York Red Bulls organization. It started when the first team defeated SC Columbus Crew 3-2 and got favorable results as New York City FC and Toronto FC both failed to win. The result is that Jesse Marsch’s group is effectively the regular season Eastern Conference Champion because NYCFC will not make up a 12-goal differential on the final day.
This gives the Red Bulls home field advantage at least through the conference final and lifts the club into the CONCACAF Champions League again next year. But to understand how good of a season it’s been for the Red Bulls, you have to consider this team started 1-6 and has blown five two-goal leads. Since the first month of the season, it has easily been the best team in the league and has not been beaten over its last 19 games in all competitions.
“The 1-6 start, I think we had a leadership council meeting where we talked in-depth about how we needed to pick things up,” Marsch said. “And to be fair those guys on the leadership counsel took a lot on their own shoulders and they said, 'We have to play better, and if we don't play better, then this team is not going to be any good.
"I think they all took responsibility."
Also in the game, Bradley Wright-Phillips scored two goals, giving him 23 for the season. Heading into the final weekend, he has scored one more than NYCFC's David Villa.
“He's one of my favorite strikers in the league, if not my favorite,” Columbus Crew coach Gregg Berhalter said of Wright-Phillips. “Great movement, great finishing. He does everything really well. You know, I think you need contact. He doesn't really love contact. I think if you're physical with him, he doesn't enjoy that. But not many forwards do.
“But I think his timing, his runs, are really good, finishing out of the box, you name it. He's got it all.”
The good news kept rolling for the Red Bulls as the club’s second team, the Red Bulls II, advanced to the final of the USL Cup playoffs with a shootout win over Louisville City FC following a 1-1 draw over 120 minutes. The Red Bulls II had the best record of the regular season but continued through the playoffs despite players like Alex Muyl and Sean Davis moving to the first team.
The pressure is now squarely on the Red Bulls to bring home the silverware.
FC Dallas wins but loses Diaz
For a few moments it looked like it was going to be an epic day for FC Dallas in its quest for the treble. Colorado lost to Portland, leaving the door wide open for the Texas club to walk in and claim both the Supporters Shield and Western Conference title.
After falling behind to Seattle, Dallas rallied to equalize and then found a late winner from Carlos Ruiz, who just does not appear to be done with MLS yet.
Then, at the end, Mauro Diaz went down with an injury and had to be carted off. Diaz has been one of the league’s best playmakers and is a cornerstone of the franchise. But then it was revealed that the injury was to his Achilles heel and it would keep him out of the rest of the season and beyond.
"I’m waiting [to learn more], but we need to protect players," a somber Oscar Pareja said after the game. "The friction tonight was too much. It is sometimes not tangible, it’s not something you can see, but it’s one after another after another, and then you pay the price."
FC Dallas midfielder Ryan Hollingshead said after the game that Seattle was playing reckless with no concern over safety. He did not mince words when reflecting the frustration among FC Dallas players.
"I think there were a lot of late tackles or tackles where guys were coming through the man to get the ball—especially on our No. 10 and our playmakers," Hollingshead said. "That is for sure tactical on their part. They’re not doing that on accident. It’s game plan.
"It happens so fast," he added. "So I’m not going to blame it on the referees, but that is their job. Anywhere in the entire world, their job is to protect the players and make the game run smoothly."
FC Dallas was on cruise control midway through this season but the abrupt departure of Fabian Castillo to Turkey and now the loss of Diaz has robbed it of its two best players. (U.S. international Kellyn Acosta was also was forced out of the game on Sunday.) The bottom line is that it has gone from an elite team to an underdog in the playoffs. It is too bad because Dallas has always tried to play an attacking and explosive brand of soccer—something that most MLS teams fail to offer.
Champs live to fight another day
The Portland Timbers desperately needed a win over first-place Colorado on Sunday and Caleb Porter’s team came up huge with a 1-0 result. It was not pretty, but it got the job done. Now it heads into the final week of the season needing at least a draw on the road against Vancouver. The problem is that Portland has not won a single road game this season—the primary reason why it is in such a perilous predicament.
Portland can advance with a draw if the results break the right way. Now in seventh place, the standings remain very tight with Real Salt Lake sitting in fourth place with 46 points. It is a rough situation for the Timbers but MLS can be very forgiving.
Of course, Portland is also living dangerously in the Champions League and also needs a win over Deportivo Sasprissa on Wednesday night to stay alive. Don’t be surprised if the game against the Costa Rican club sets the momentum and tone heading into Sunday.
Awful Philadelphia somehow qualifies
Expectations were low in Philadelphia this preseason, then expectations rose when it acquired Alejandro Bedoya. But Jim Curtin’s team has been woeful down the stretch with just two points in its last six games.
On Sunday, the club had anopportunity at home against an eliminated Orlando City to clinch a postseason berth—for only the second time in team history. Instead, it played one of its worst games of the season in a 2-0 loss. There was no positive enthusiasm or energy from the Union players. It was brutal to watch a team perform like that in such an important game.
“Disappointing performance from everyone, from the staff, from the players,” Curtin said. “We let our fans down in a big, big, big way. Today we had a great opportunity. Again, the goals we give up are silly goals but, at the same time, we win and lose as a team. We won’t point fingers and blame individuals, we haven’t done that all year. We’ve stuck together through the very good times at the beginning of the year and the bad times now.”
The one saving grace for Philadelphia is that somehow New England was even worse. The Revolution could have put itself in a strong position with a win over league-worst Chicago on Sunday but it inexplicably lost 2-1. Sixth-place Philadelphia now has a three-point lead and a 12-goal advantage over seventh-place New England. With one game to play, the race is over.
Jay Heaps will find himself on the hot seat in New England. Yes, upper management deserves its share or even most of the blame. But there is no excuse for Sunday’s loss. The Revolution has a talent edge over Chicago and it should have had an enthusiasm edge. It did not, and that is on Heaps.
“These things happen throughout the year but you just hope it doesn't come down and happen in such an important game for us,” Heaps said. “It's really disappointing that we gave ourselves very little room for error and tonight there was a lot of error.”
“It’s disappointing to be where we are today.”
Jim Curtin’s job security will now revolve around how the Union performs in the playoffs. A quick exit and Earnie Stewart might want to make a switch and further implement his vision on the team’s future.